Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The United Methodist General Conference 2012: Two Sermons about Tampa

Watch Over One Another In Love 1 John 3:16, John 10: 11-18 Bach IV 2012 Marsh Chapel April 29, 2012 Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill, Dean Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett, Director of Music Bob The description of the faithful life, the life of the community of faith, professed by John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, is our theme on this Good Shepherd Sunday, in which we hear again, for the last time this school year, the beauty of Bach, in a cantata of praise: ‘watch over one another in love’. On these Sundays we hope to hear the music speak, preach, announce the Gospel of grace. On these and all Sundays we also hope to hear the words sing, harmonize and beautify. Music that speaks and words that sing: for these in the enchantment of worship we do hunger and thirst. The Gospel of the beloved disciple, and the first letter in that same tradition, are themselves canticles of love. A new commandment we are given: love one another. Love one another says the Risen Christ, even as I have loved you. By this they will know who you are, if you love one another. There is no diminution of authority, as the Shepherd lays down his life. What he lays down, he has the power also to lift up. Our image of the good Shepherd is good enough, but not strong enough. His embrace embraces the globe, sheep of multiple folds, other sheep not of this fold. Not all faithful people are Christian, Protestant, Methodist, Boston University Marsh Chapel people. There are many ways of keeping faith. Our feeling for the good Shepherd is good enough but not powerful enough. He knows, he knows his own, even as he is known by God. Our image of the good Shepherd is good enough but not full enough. One flock, one shepherd: take away from the noise of your differences. When we love we are one, one flock, one Shepherd, one God who is above all and through all and in all. First John came along to sharpen up what the Gospel left open. The Gospel of Spirit became the Letter of commandment. The Gospel of community, beloved community, became the Letter of authority, ecclesiastical authority. The Gospel of inspiration became the Letter of instruction. The Gospel of freedom became the Letter of love. The Gospel of Incarnation became the Letter of responsibility. There is no mistaking the announcement of grace, a call to obedience, in 1 John. To love is to take responsibility. To love is to be responsive, responsible, to take responsibility. By this we know love…If any one has…and sees…and closes his heart…how does God’s love abide in him?...We should believe and love one another. Would you love? Then you will take responsibility. It is wonderful to have the Gospel. It is good also to have the Letter. Dr Jarrett, speaking of love and responsibility, I wish every student at our University, and every listener in earshot of our voices, could know the intimate, communal, choral, consanguinity of singing in this choir. I wish all could have some measure, some version, of this choral community in grace, freedom, love and responsibility. It is an experience of really being alive, an experience of love, an act of joyful responsive, responsibility that together we take. We hunger for words that sing. We thirst for music that speaks. Help us to listen in love for illuminating moments in today’s music… Scott Bob We shall go forth together. We shall live together the commandment of belief and love. We shall trust the shelter of the Shepherd. We shall bring salt to the meal of life. We shall bring light to the dwellings of life. We shall be sheep in another’s fold, little children who love not in word or speech but in deed and truth. With God’s help, we shall so order our lives that we learn, better and better, day by day to watch over one another in love. Of us, pointing to us, here and now, over time, we shall hope, others will see and say, they do watch over one another in love. Then we think about the commandments, as Marilynne Robinson does in her novel Gilead, as a preparation for worship: There’s a pattern in these Commandments of setting things apart so that there holiness will be perceived. Every day is holy, but the Sabbath is set apart so that the holiness of time can be experienced. Every human being is worthy of honor, but the conscious discipline of honor is learned from this setting apart of mother and father,; who usually labor and are heavy laden, and may be cranky or stingy or ignorant or overbearing…you see (them) as God sees (them) and that is an instruction in the nature of God and humankind and Being itself. That is why the Fifth Commandment belongs on the first table(139) You, you Marsh Chapel, you are leading the way. You are taking responsibility. Others will follow. You are leading the way in the affirmation of the full humanity of gay people. Others will follow. Not for you the earlier habits of treating some as 5/5ths and others as 3/5ths human. Not just baptism, confirmation, eucharist, penance and unction for all, but marriage and ordination for all, too. You are leading. Others will follow. You are leading the way in heavenly worship. Not for you a contemporary worship which is neither contemporary nor worship. Not for you the substitution of entertainment for enchantment. Not for you the occupation of pulpits by unordained, untrained, uneducated, unconnected ministers. Not for you the elaborated expenditures of denominations and church leaders who lose their grounding in the basic ministry of the church: the Word of God, the Sacraments of Grace, the service of neighbor. You are leading the way. Others will follow. Why, your example and its shadow will be felt as far into the future as a truly open church, as far down into the trembling depths of every phobia that every closed a heart, or a mind, or a door, as far out into the globe as every poor child. Today I add: as far away, in every way, as a United Methodist General Conference in Tampa, Florida. You are leading the way. Others will follow. May God give us a mind for words that sing. May God give us a tongue for songs that speak. So fed, may we watch over one another in love. Come Almighty to deliver, let us all thy life receive Suddenly return and never, nevermore thy temples leave Thee we would be always blessing, serve thee as thy hosts above Pray and praise thee without ceasing , glory in thy perfect love Unfinished Grace Communion Meditation May 6, 2012 1 John 4: 7-12, Mark 16: 1-8 Robert Allan Hill ‘To be mature is build schools in which you will not study, to plant trees under which you will not sit, to grow churches in which you will not worship.’ (Ernest Campbell). John would agree: John Dempster. John Appleseed. John Wesley. 1 John. John would agree. The cataract of Easter, its shattering, thunderous, calamitous, munificent, apocalypse of love, leaves parcels and morsels strewn about the lawn of life. Our Holy Communion in Eastertide is forever an unfinished grace. We stumble about, following the Easter kiss of grace (gnadenkusse), the Easter quickening. We bump into bits and pieces left behind the resurrection tornado. For one thing, the gospel for this Easter, Mark 16, re-read this morning, ends in mid-flight, end in mid-sentence, its last word a preposition, ‘for’. A weak case (from the critical moderate viewpoint0 finds a couple of other sources in antiquity, in ancient Greek literature, which end with this dangling preposition. But the much more muscular view, as usual, is that of the moderate critics, not that of the critical moderates. The end of the scroll (as often happened to beginnings and endings of these documents) probably was torn and lost. The Easter gospel is literally (not a word I usually associate with the Bible) unfinished. Its ending is unending. For….what? If you doubt this, let me remind you that all the subsequent editors of Mark tried to fix up the finish. Beginning with Mark. There are three different endings to Mark. The unfinished original, and two finished unoriginals, the shorter and the longer. They are not improvements, except in a grammatical sense. Next come Matthew and Luke, writing 20 years after Mark. They also both replace the unfinished finish, with a finished finish, not original, but, like a nice addition to an old house, appropriate to the space. The Fourth Gospel enlarged Mark’s sketch (a version may have influenced John), with three other stories (of Mary, of the disciples, and of Thomas). And of course Paul knows nothing of any of this, so had nothing to add. Whether or not you want to think about unfinished grace as the metaphorical unfinished symphony of Being is your choice. The fact stubbornly remains: Mark 16 ends unfinished, in mid-sentence, ‘they were afraid for…’ Life is open. Freedom is real. Easter causes us a little humility about what we think we know. Unfinished grace cautions us at Easter. Life is unfolding in unfinished grace. If, for instance, you have attended a recent lengthy conference or meeting which was by all accounts an unmitigated disaster, and you are tempted to despair, beware. Grace is afoot, alive, active, and unfinished. There is more future than you may think in the future. For another thing, in the aftermath and after glow of Easter, sometimes when we come to our senses we deeply realize unfinished work, unresolved issues, unappreciated love. Every year, studying the Gospel of John, this hits like a trailer falling out of a tornado. I am speaking of Nicodemus. We didn’t hear about him this year, for he is only in John. You remember his awkward appearance at night in John 3. He disappears, but reappears at the very end, John 19:29, and helps Joseph of Arimethea to bury Jesus’ body. ‘Nicodemus, who first came to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes’. So poignant, this, so true to life, so accurate about us. We don’t know what we have got until it is gone. At last—too late but not too late—Nicodemus responds in love to the Christ who loved him to death. He shows up at the burial. Some returning faithful souls from Tampa Florida may this month suddenly realize what has been lost in the Methodist church. You don’t what you’ve got until its gone. For 200 years in various forms our church supported a security of appointment, a modest kind of connectional tenure. In this practice was located the basis for the covenant of the clergy in conference. In this practice was located the functional basis for itinerancy, in appointment and apportionment. In this practice was located the final protection of the freedom of the pulpit from harm and muffling by Episcopal leaders for whom such freedom is uncomfortable. I In short, the church said to those entering ministry: ‘you study for four years in college, three years in seminary, work for three years under supervision, and agree to go anywhere you are sent at the appointment of the Bishop, along with your family by the way, and live in a parsonage and earn $40,000 a year. We will at least guarantee you a place to preach, however modest that may be. But now, the demands on the young clergy are the same, but the responsible balance, the fair deal from an earlier day is gone. All the weight is on one end of the teeter totter. Beware of mendacious and predatory Bishops: power corrupts, and absolute power, now in view, corrupts absolutely. It is the equivalent of eliminating tenure on the Charles River campus in one vote, with no full debate. Maybe the judicial council will rule this too out of order. You don’t know what you have got until it is gone. Nicodemus doesn’t know what he has until it is gone. Still, there is a way—100 pounds of treasure way—for Nicodemus to find faith. Part of the joy of Easter is that this spiritual street theater involves audience participation, a play unfinished until you, like Nicodemus, step upon stage, take your cues, memorize and deliver your lines. Unfinished grace includes us—if we will allow it—at Easter. Yet another thing: as bread and wine await. 1,000 of us worshipped here in the triduum—an explosion. Odd, I looked up at Frances Willard, Easter day. She is found standing perpetually alongside Abraham Lincoln, here in our western stained glass. To finish Marsh Chapel, sixty years ago, Daniel Marsh had to decide on one final figure, for the last stained glass window. The choice became a cause célèbre, with letters and advice flying fast and furious. In a day when people felt strongly about Connick stained glass windows. Who should it be? Marsh finally chose Frances Willard, the female force behind prohibition. Interesting. A quintessential Methodist choice, in one sense, and a lingering, awkward physical presence on a secular, urban, large, cold, Northern, anything but temperate let alone abstinent, campus. Here is what President Marsh wrote about Frances Willard: ‘I dare to prophesy that as the years go by and the history of the New World comes to be read…the name of Frances Willard will stand by the side of Lincoln’ (Lady Somerset of England). Dean of Women at Northwestern…Her upbringing, her religious convictions, her natural bent for reform…put her in the temperance movement…President of the WTCU…A statue of her stands in the rotunda of the Capitol…It is a monument to a beautiful life. (Charm of the Chapel, 182) Willard said: ‘temperance is moderation in the things that are good and abstinence from things that are foul’; ‘I will not waste my life in friction when it could be turned into momentum’; ‘the struggle of the soul is toward expression’ She was born near Rochester (Churchville). She gave 400 speeches a year in the company of her longtime companion, Anna Adams Gordon: ‘there is no village that has not its examples of ‘two hearts in counsel’ both of which are feminine’. For Willard, temperance was primarily a movement at advancing the cause of suffrage (to my mind anyway), ‘ Yet eighty years after the experience and failure of prohibition (with thanks for Ken Burns’ recent portrayal) Francis Willard is still here, and we still have unfinished work, unfinished imaginative labor to do regarding alcohol. I am not in favor of prohibition and not a t-totaller, although I grew up in a dry home. But as a Dad, granddad, pastor, chaplain, Dean and minister, if the choice is between prohibition and sexual exploitation, I take prohibition in a New York minute. Our work on college campuses regarding alcohol is unfinished. I will linger with Willard a brief moment longer. Notice her way of living. She lived all her life with her life long partner. One day, our denomination will honor the emerging Frances Willards in our midst, the 10% of those 8 and 9 year old kids who know that somehow they are just a little different from the majority, who know they have a God given and different orientation. We will bring them to Marsh Chapel and introduce them to one of their forebears, Frances Willard, a feminist, suffragette, international leader, dean, temperance advocate, pioneer, and very probably a gay woman of the 19th century. She didn’t see her main goal, voting rights for women, in her lifetime. That happened twenty years after she died. But it happened. If you are limping home from a General Conference that was an unmitigated disaster, take a little heart from those who labored for causes that came to fruition only long after they had died. Just so, unfinished grace challenges us at Easter. Grace challenges us to remember that real change takes time, but it will come. It is coming. It is coming like the glory of the morning on the wave… ‘To be mature is build schools in which you will not study, to plant trees under which you will not sit, to grow churches in which you will not worship.’ John would agree: John Dempster. John Appleseed. John Wesley. 1 John. John would agree. Beloved let us love one another, for love is from God and one who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God for God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that God loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins. Beloved if God so loved us we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another God’s love abides in us and is perfected in us.